Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Ingmar Bergman, who died this week aged 89, encouraged young directors not to direct any film that does not have a "message," but rather to wait until one comes along that does, yet admitted that he himself was not always sure of the message of some of his films.

Maj Sjowall, one half of the great crime writing duo, claimed "they never expected to be translated into English that was for Strindberg not for us."

That excellent crime writer Reginald Hill, creator of Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe, states that he has never read Ian Rankin.

Thanks to Deadly Pleasures magazine for those last two titbits.

Friday, July 27, 2007


We went to see Golden Door, a film directed by Emanuele Crialese, on Monday.

I thought that it would provide a bit more insight into the struggles of the Italian immigrants to the USA. This subject was covered from a completely different angle by The Godfather Part Two, but Golden Door showed you don't need a vast budget to create an evocative film .

In 1913 the Mancusos a poor farming family from Sicily leave their home village, make the long voyage to America, and have to submit to a very humiliating examination at Ellis Island. The film ends with part of the family admitted, and the old grandmother saying she wants to go home.

The film is memorable for a wonderful image of the ship parting from the crowded docks taken from above. The mass of humanity separates as those on the dockside are left behind by those leaving for the new world.

There is also a luminescent performance by the beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg, as an Englishwoman of indeterminate reputation, making the voyage.

This was charming and very informative film.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I have just finished reading Betrayal by Karin Alvtegen. While I found that I was sucked in to the story and admired her grasp of the human psyche, the unremitting bleakness of the tale left me rather disturbed. This story of shattered human relationships is told mostly in the first person by each of the three main characters; Eva and Henrik, a married couple in their thirties who have a son Axel, and Jonas, a younger man.

Jonas, has been keeping vigil beside his comatose girlfriend's bed for two years. Henrik is having an affair to which he is afraid to admit, and Eva wants revenge for this betrayal. But it turns out that all is not what it seems as their relationships are dissected one by one.

Ms Alvtegen certainly has a deep understanding of the emotional turmoil people go through when their lives turn out badly. She conveys in brilliant fashion the thoughts and actions of a couple whose marital relationship has broken down, and especially seemed to understand the weakness of a character like Henrik.
This is a dark psychological thriller, and the plot does have some important weaknesses, but to me the main problem was that all the main characters were just so completely unsympathetic. I was interested in what happened to them as part of the story, but could not care about them as characters. Eva could have easily just told Henrik to go away, but she went down a path of bitterness and hate. Henrik was a pathetic creep, who was willing to hurt his wife, but could not face the thought that someone else found her attractive.

And I won't spoil the plot by detailing the varied problems of the very damaged Jonas.

This was a very bleak, very Scandinavian story with not one touch of lightness, or humour within it. Not my sort of crime fiction, but an interesting example of the psychological thriller sub genre.

"and we could go alone, just the two of us for a change."......

"There is nothing, absolutely nothing that I want to do together with you."

Sunday, July 22, 2007


I have started to read Betrayal by Karin Alvtegen and am finding it rather dark, disturbing and depressing. That is not so say that it is not excellent psychological crime fiction, but I have not yet found even a small spark of humour in the book.

The very short winter days are probably one cause of the very high suicide rates in Scandinavia.

But in theory countries in which there is not such a large gap in wealth between the rich and the poor should be happier and more content. This is another book that puts that myth to rest, and reveals in the lives of the two main characters Eva and Jonas how loneliness and alienation can lead to desperation.
Sjowall and Wahloo, in their classic sequence of books, revealed for the first time that all was not well with the Swedish socialist paradise, and Karin Alvtegen carries on that theme in this dark tale of revenge and general despair.
Details about Karin Alvtegen's books, and some the reasons for their dark mood can be found at:
"the so-called Welfare State abounds with sick, poor and lonely people....." Sjowall and Wahloo: The Locked Room 1973

Friday, July 20, 2007


I finished reading Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn yesterday, and have had to pause to catch my breath. This is an incredible debut novel, and I can well understand why it won both the New Blood and Ian Fleming Steel Daggers from the Crime Writer's Association.

Camille Preaker a reporter with a Chicago newspaper returns to her home town, Wind Gap, Missouri, to cover the disappearance, and subsequent murder of Natalie Keene aged 10. She is the second girl to have been murdered in the town : 9 months before Anne Nash, aged 9, had been discovered in a nearby creek. Both girls had been strangled and had their teeth removed.

"It's at the very bottom of Missouri, in the boot heel. Spitting distance from Tennessee and Arkansas,........It's one of those crummy towns prone to misery............The local bar Heelah's, serves nothing pork related, only chicken tenders, which are presumably, processed by equally furious factory workers in some other crappy town."

Camille stays with her mother Adora, stepfather Alan, and half sister Amma in their large Victorian mansion, where years earlier another half sister Marian had died. Adora is the richest woman in town, and owns the local hog butchering factory.

an elaborate Victorian replete with widow's walk, a wraparound veranda, a summer porch jutting out back.......The Victorians, especially southern Victorians, needed a lot of room.......to avoid rapacious lust, to wall themselves away from sticky emotions.

This is as much a story about broken relationships and broken people, as it is a crime thriller.

Camille, is a very disturbed person, and this town is not the best place for her, holding as it does memories and secrets from the past.

Her estranged and difficult relationship with her mother Adora, is complicated by her precocious 13 year old half sister Amma, who has a weird control over her little group of friends. Camille becomes friendly with the investigating detective Richard Willis, who has been sent from Kansas city to help the local police.

Most people believe John Keene 18 year old brother of Natalie is the killer, but a young witness reports that in fact Natalie was abducted by a woman.

There is a build up of tremendous tension throughout the book and just when you think everything has become crystal clear, and it is not difficult to work out, there is a tiny little twist in the tail.

I have to admit I love the American heartland, all those small towns with their high school football teams, diners and gas stations.

There is actually a real Wind Gap in Pennsylvania, that I have driven through many years ago on my way from Easton to Stroudsburg and Tannersville.

I have spent many happy weeks driving the back roads of the Upper South, and all the towns have an aura of menace alongside that wonderful American hospitality. The rest rooms are cleaner than you expect, and the food is better than you could hope, while some of those "crappy" towns are set amid beautiful forests and mountains. And of course they do make such a wonderful setting for crime thrillers.

Wind Gap as created by Gillian Flynn comes straight out of Faulkner, with the characters by Tennessee Williams, only Gillian's are more frightening and more deranged.

Was it George Bush, who said he wanted American families to be less like the Simpsons and more like the Waltons.

Well I like my fictional, and real women, to be more like Paola Brunetti and certainly not at all like Camille Preaker, and her family. This is a very exciting novel which grips you from the start, but it is not for the faint of heart, or the sensitive.

I'd submitted myself to boys; Do what you want; just like me..........Amma's sexual offerings......... Do what I want; I might like you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Earlier in the month I posted about this years Crime Writer's Association Dagger winners.

"The Duncan Lawrie Dagger for 2007 has been won by Peter Temple for his book The Broken Shore, while the writer /translator team of Fred Vargas and Sian Reynolds won the International Dagger for the second year running for Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand."

I did not mention that both the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and the New Blood Dagger had been won by Gillian Flynn for her novel Sharp Objects.

So I have decided on a change of scene from Sicily and Puglia, and that I had better read this double prize winner set in southern Missouri.

One thing Southern Italy, and the heartland of the USA have in common is that is that there are plenty of very quirky characters, and strange situations for crime writers to explore.

"It's near the Mississippi, so it was a port city at one point. Now its biggest business is hog butchering...........Old money and trash."

"Which are you?"

"I'm trash. From old money."
A promising start, I think I am going to enjoy this one.


I don't usually mention any of the non-fiction books that I read, but on this occasion I will make an exception.

The Great Escape, subtitled Nine Jews who fled Hitler and changed the world, by author Kati Marton is the tale of nine men who grew up in Budapest's brief Golden Age, and were driven from Hungary by anti-Semitism.

By surviving the Nazis, and making new lives for themselves mostly in the USA they certainly send down a message across the years to us in the present day.

Among the nine were four scientists, who helped usher in the nuclear age and the computer,

Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Wigner;

two great movie myth-makers, Michael Curtiz, director of Casablanca, and Alexander Korda;

two immortal photographers, Robert Capa and Andre Kerstesz;

and one seminal writer Arthur Koestler, author of Darkness at Noon.

An epilogue relates the journey into exile of three members of the next generation of Budapest exiles, financier George Soros, Intel founder Andy Grove, and 2002 Nobel laureate in literature Imre Kertesz.
We are taken from Budapest's cultured cafe society, to the battlefields of the Great War, to Spain, Normandy and Indo-China; from Weimar Germany in a brief period of scientific primacy, and to Soviet Russia during the famine and purges. Their journey continues from the film studios of England and Hollywood, to the research facilities of Princeton, Los Alamos and on to Trinity.
While those they have left behind in Hungary make a train journey to Auschwitz, and the Nazi barbarism is replaced by Soviet inhumanity.
This is a harrowing and inspiring book, which is brilliantly researched with an incredibly comprehensive bibliography. While it is a bit difficult to follow the different threads at times, it is well worth the effort, as the story contains the much of the essence of 20th century history.

Wigner saw a blessing in old age and the failure of memory. "I am amazed," he wrote," that sometimes even the name Adolf Hitler escapes me."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This must be my week for coming across insightful interviews by some of my favourite crime fiction authors. After listening to the Gianrico Carofiglio interview on BBC Radio Five, I had another read of the recent interview of Reed Farrel Coleman by Megan Abbott and it contained this exchange.

Megan Abbott: You are frequently praised for your characterization. Is it the most important thing to you in crafting a novel? Setting/atmosphere/plot/ pacing/dialogue—how do you rank these in terms of importance as a writer? As a reader?

Reed Farrel Coleman: My answer to this question today is very different than it would have been at the start of my career. Initially, my writing was all about character, atmosphere and tone—which, for me, are intimately related to setting—and dialogue. While I maintain that these factors are still most important to my work, I have come to appreciate the value of solid plotting and pacing. Readers may forget the plot the second they close the book and the characters may live on in their heads until the day they die, but unless you give the reader reasons to turn the page and a solid foundation upon which to hang the characterizations, you aren't doing your job.

Carofiglio and Coleman agree you need a plot as well as good characterisation, whether your in Bari, or Brooklyn.

I will cheerfully admit to forgetting some plots even before I close the book, but not those characters.


I heard an excellent performance by Gianrico Carofiglio on Simon Mayo's BBC Five program this afternoon. He was in London to promote Reasonable Doubts [reviewed here on Crime Scraps], but despite being constantly interupted for non-news from Moscow, he answered some of Mayo's inane questions with charm and good humour. He also gave us some fine insights into the character of his creation the lawyer Guido Guerreri, a man with vulnerabilities and a surprisingly caring side to his nature.

Gianrico told Simon he had been an anti-Mafia prosecutor, and was then asked "Is that a dangerous job?"

"Not really Simon I just had four bodyguards, and the use of a specially armoured car."

He did not reply in that tone, and was far kinder to his interviewer than Guido Guerreri would have been.

He did promise us more books, and I have his next The Past is Another Country on order.

An interview well worth hearing if it appears on the online BBC Radio 5 replay.

Monday, July 16, 2007


In a long running, and therefore successful, crime fiction series it is very difficult to keep up the freshness and vitality of the first few books. I have mentioned previously authors who have run out of plots and decided to rely on merely character to keep the series going well beyond the sell buy date.

Of course this does not apply in the case of Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Salvo Montalbano stories set in Vigata, Sicily. While The Patience of The Spider, the 8th book to be translated into English, may not have one of the stongest plots in the series, it is full of Montalbano and as such cannot fail to interest and charm. Once again Stephen Sartarelli has been able to translate the quirkiness of the characters into believable and readable English.

I am now so immersed in the foibles of Montalbano that I am not as interested in the investigation as with his interactions with his friends, colleagues and superiors. Even the wounded and thoughtful Montalbano of this book is a spikey character who has little patience with bland authority.
The question had been asked by a young guy an up-and-coming assistant inspector, well-dressed, quick-tongued, and well-toned.....He looked like the social-climbing business type. One saw so many of his ilk nowdays. A rapidly proliferating race of assholes.

I like his subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, contempt for his superiors, his wit, his craftiness, his concern for Catarella, his friendship with colleagues, and his sense of justice. They make him what USA Today called an "honest man on Sicily's mean streets".

Even his faults such as his constant bickering with Livia, and his jealousy of Mimi Augello add a realism to his character with which this ageing male crime fiction reader can identify. One reason I will certainly carry on reading the series is to see if Salvo and Livia can survive the perils of a long distance relationship.

Nec tecum nec sine te......Neither with you nor without you

Montalbano is recuperating from his gunshot wound, and Livia has come from Genoa to look after him. But when pretty Susanna Mistretta is kidnapped he is asked to assist Inspector Filippo Minutolu of the Montelusa police with the case.

Why have the kidnappers asked for 6 billion lire, in the age of the euro, and when everyone knows the family have limited means?

Why are the kidnappers keeping the local Tv stations informed about the situation?

How did the family lose their money?

The intuitive Montalbano, in between some fine meals, carries out his own offbeat investigation and with the usual assistance of Catarella's contacts, and Nicolo Zito his friend at the Free Channel private television station manages to unwind a spiders web of intrigue.

"Normally a kidnapper has everything to gain from silence. These guys, however are doing everything under the sun to make noise."

coniglio all'agrodolce-sweet and sour rabbit

What can I get for you, Inspector?"
They laughed.Seafood antipasto, fish soup, boiled octopusdressed with olive oiland lemon, four mullets (two fried, two grilled), and two little glasses, filled to the brim, of a tangerine liquer with an explosive alcohol level........"
I can see your in good form again."


Thanks to Petrona for picking up the interesting interview of Reed Farrel Coleman at :


Here is the link to the 5 minute video of the prologue of his new book, Soul Patch.


Thursday, July 12, 2007


I really wonder why the two episodes of the RTE-Danish TV program Proof were put on at 00.20 in the morning and not at a more reasonable time. But then the theme of the program, human trafficking of Eastern European women to fund expensive political campaigns for corrupt politicians is a bit too close to reality for prime time programming. Ireland, the Celtic Tiger, has gained massively from membership of the European Union, but many have been left behind by this economic miracle and feel like strangers in their own country.

Charlestown, a Boston suburb, produces more bank robbers and armoured car thieves than any square mile in the world.[Prince of Thieves: Chuck Hogan]

Perhaps on the banks of the Liffey there are more corrupt politicians than anywhere else........... or would another capital city claim that honour.

Politicians can we trust them? Well I will leave that difficult question to bloggers with lower blood pressure than I.

"They are all rather nice people with reasonable views. They are strongly opposed to Marxism......" Heinz Zarnke in a letter to his parents Germany 1923


I must have been up at 00.20 on Wednesday morning because I watched a few minutes of an fascinating Irish-Danish cooperation the TV crime series Proof. I put the recorder on for the the end of episode one and episode two watching them last night, and then recorded the remaining two episodes for watching at my leisure.

Proof is very hard gritty violent noir with a plot that involves an upcoming Irish election campaign, and the search for an Albanian girl.

I found it difficult to work out who was more creepy, the smiling Myles Garrick the potential Irish Taoseich [Prime Minister], or the disgusting Eastern European gangsters trafficking in women.

This program is certainly another encouragement to delve into the world of Irish crime fiction.

Monday, July 09, 2007


My review of Jo Nesbo's The Devil's Star can be read at:


Saturday, July 07, 2007


Gianrico Carofiglio just gets better and better.

In his latest novel Reasonable Doubts defence lawyer Guido Guerrieri is asked to deal with the appeal of Fabio Paolicelli, who is facing a 16 year sentence for drug smuggling.

Paolicelli initially confessed to the crime in order to make sure his wife was not arrested. He does not remember Guido, but Guido remembers him as the fascist thug who terrorised his teenage years.

Guerrieri is inclined not to take the case until he meets Paolicelli's beautiful half Japanese wife Natsu Kawabata.

"There's a reception and I am taking care of the buffet. Japanese food with a few variants of my own creation."

The body work of Paolicelli's car had been found to contain 40 kilos of cocaine on the family's return from a holiday in Montenegro. A mysterious lawyer Avvocato Corrado Macri had been recommended by a stranger to defend Paolicelli and had not made much of an effort while claiming everything was in hand.
Guerrieri is not sure of the inncocence or guilt of his client, but is sure about the atractiveness of his client's wife.

With the help of Carmelo Tancredi, a policeman friend, Guerrieri investigates the case and the possibility that the car had been tampered with in the hotel car park in Montenegro.

Guerrieri is a very interesting character, and certainly he is very distraught at being left by Margherita at the beginning of the book. In this vulnerable state he begins a relationship with Natsu. He wonders if he really wants to free Paolicelli, or have him serve his time in prison while he enjoys a family life with his wife and young daughter.

She came and sat down next to me on the sofa......One thing led to another......It was the last rational thought I had last night...........................

I would have said this lawyer was a piece of shit.

I love the first person conversational style of these books and the legal details about the Italian legal system. The characters are well drawn, and above all you feel every minute of Guido's struggle with both the case and with his conscience. The questions posed by the plot keep you reading right through to the end, and as an interesting sub plot Guido Guerrieri, the fictional lawyer, wants to become a writer.

Well the real life Gianrico Carofiglio, until recently an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Bari and now advisor to the Italian Parliament on organized crime, has definitely become an excellent writer.
Are you still a Fascist? how could you have been a Fascist and liked jazz?

Friday, July 06, 2007


The Duncan Lawrie Dagger for 2007 has been won by Peter Temple for his book The Broken Shore, while the writer /translator team of Fred Vargas and Sian Reynolds won the International Dagger for the second year running for Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand.

I read and reviewed both these books on Crime Scraps, and really enjoyed both of them. Links below:
The choices of the Crime Writer's Association have been a case of feast and famine for me over the last few years.
The prize winners have ranged from the brilliantly gripping:
2001 Henning Mankell for Sidetracked
2005 Arnaldur Indridason for Silence of the Grave
To the mindblowingly eccentric:
2002 Jose Carlos Samoza for The Athenian Murders
To the utterly boringly predictable Silver Dagger winning:

2003 Morag Joss for Half Broken Things
and the just plain awful:
2004 Sara Paretsky for Blacklist

This year the judges get the Crime Scraps seal of approval for selecting excellent books with good plots and interesting characters.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Crime fiction authors, among others, have claimed that the genre is looked down on by readers of "literature". Despite the honours earned by such luminaries as Ruth Rendell, P.D.James, and the uncrowned King of Scotland Ian Rankin we somehow feel recognition of crime fiction as real literature is still not fully accepted.

I had never heard of the Bancarella Prize [Premio Bancarella] which is awarded in the small Italian town of Pontremoli at the end of July. I first read about it in the blurb for Reasonable Doubts, and learned that the original winner was Ernest Hemingway, and that Gianrico Carofiglio had won it in 2005.

In a review of Reasonable Doubts by Publisher's Weekly Gianrico Carofiglio was almost designated an Italian John Grisham or Michael Connelly.

Interestingly Grisham in 1994 and Connelly in 2000 have also won the Bancarella, but it was some of the other winners names that caught my attention.

Boris Pasternak 1958, Isaac Bashevis Singer 1968, Oriana Fallaci 1970, Alex Haley 1998 and the aforementioned Ernest Hemingway in 1953.

This is surely recognition that great authors are great authors, whatever the genre.

Ah yes, and the winner in 2001 was Andrea Camilleri!
Winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature:
1954 Ernest Hemingway
1958 Boris Pasternak
1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer

Monday, July 02, 2007


I am still suffering with the cold and cough I brought back from Hay on Wye. But I am enjoying reading Reasonable Doubts by Gianrico Carofiglio, the third in the Guido Guerrieri series featuring the defence lawyer from Bari.

I hope to be back to normal posting at the weekend.